It's as good as everyone says, although difficult to read in places. I don't know if I could read the torture scenes again, and the attempted rape was also painful to get through. Not painful because it was badly written; the exact opposite, in fact. But there are a lot of brilliant things, here, including the torture and the strategy Mark uses to get through it. I expect the personality splinter to have serious repercussions down the line. Interesting, too, as another example of the ways in which Miles and Mark are like-but-not, in that Miles created the Admiral persona in a very similar fashion, though less consciously.
I enjoyed the writerly tricks Bujold plays with perspective and POV in this book: the way Mark never thinks of himself as having a name until Bel Thorne names him, and the way this is mirrored while Miles has lost his memory, the subtle but telling differences between the voices of Miles and Mark, the way Miles is unmistakably Miles even when he doesn't know himself, the foreshadowing of Miles's fears about losing his mind. I noticed all these things immediately, but I think that only enhanced my enjoyment of them, watching them at work.
But make no mistake: this story is an emotional roller coaster. If I may quote two tweets, sent within moments of one another as I was reading one of the earlier chapters on the train:
"If you and Don Quixote Jr. are done..." I love you, Elli Quinn.
I don't remember the last time I went that quickly from bouncing with excitement at an action sequence to staring at a book, dumbfounded at a hero's death. I went into shock right along with Mark. Given that, it shouldn't be a surprise that I almost squealed out loud with relief to see Miles revived, precarious as his situation was at the time. I have gotten very attached to these characters: Elli's snarky competence, Elena's strength and the clear influence that Cordelia has played on her as a role model, the genius and foibles of Miles and Mark. The way that Mark grows over the few short months of the story, from resentment of Miles, to fear that he may be forced into the role of Lord Vorkosigan, to the way he comes to embrace a limited form of that role and the people he is starting to accept as his new family. But I like that it isn't easy, or even over by the end of the book; it's a process, and that feels real to me. I loved seeing Gregor come into his own, too, and the scene where Ivan gets drunk at the party and finally allows himself to start grieving for Miles was beautifully done. There's a lot of truth to the connections Bujold draws between people.
There are a few things that nagged at me. Bujold's women characters are great, but they're starting to develop a touch of Heinlein Syndrome: they're strong, and beautiful, and brilliant, and highly competent... and they really want to sleep with the hero. She puts enough twists on the trope (Taura, Thorne, the reluctance of everyone who expresses interest in Miles to become his Countess -- although now that she's almost lost him, I wonder if Quinn will change her tune on that one), so I don't fault her for it too much, but I have my eye on it. Also I really hope rape and torture do not begin to figure prominently in the stories. Torture, especially, is a staple of military SF, so it makes sense that Bujold would touch on it from time to time, but it's not something I prefer to read very often. Good as this story was, I'm not particularly eager to re-read it.
But I am very glad I read it the first time! And looking forward to seeing the repercussions. One thing I have learned about Bujold: she does not shy away from the repercussions. From Bothari's death offering to Kareen's family background to Miles's instinctive hatred of cold and the blowback from the previous missions to Jackson's Whole, it seems that almost no thread is dropped, nothing is placed at random. It's nice to see how tightly all of Bujold's skeins weave together, and I have to wonder if she has a larger endpoint or story arc in mind.
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